Mentoring tomorrow's design leaders - Plan

Mentoring tomorrow's design leaders - Plan









UK Design

Skills Alliance

WRITTEN By Kevin McCullagh, Plan Strategic








So what is mentoring all

about? Can it really nurture

design leaders? How can

young designers find a

mentor? And, how can senior

designers become better


From October 2007 to April 2008 the Design

Council ran a pilot leadership development

scheme for designers called NextNet.

As part of it, we tested a mentoring

programme which paired 13 mid-level

designers with different senior designer.

For the mid-level designers this was an

opportunity to develop skills and leadership

qualities through regular, confidential

meetings with a more experienced designer.

For the mentors – many of whom had no

previous experience of formal mentoring

– it was also a chance to develop new skills,

helped by training sessions and meetings

where they could share their experience of

being a mentor.

This booklet shares what we learned about

mentoring for designers. It may be useful

if you are interested in becoming a future

design leader, or nurturing someone to

become one.

In this booklet

you will find:

Tips on finding a mentor

Helpful pointers on maintaining an

effective mentoring relationship

A list of resources if you’d like

more information.


As the industry


seismic shifts,

designers are

looking for

leaders to steer

them through

challenges and


towards new



What is mentoring?

Leadership skills take years to develop

– and true leaders never stop developing

them. Mentoring is an increasingly popular

way of doing that.

Mentors are senior and trusted confidants

who help more junior professionals with

their career direction. They help their

protégés work out where they want to

go, and how to get there. The approach

emphasises questioning, listening and

feedback, rather than instruction. It also

involves mentors sharing insights into how

they got to their position and opening up

their own networks.

How is mentoring different

from coaching?

As mentoring and coaching both usually

involve one-to-one development sessions,

it is easy to confuse the two. In fact, the

two approaches have different goals,

relationships and time frames. Mentors

are friendly long-term career advisors with

experience of the mentee’s industry or

company. Coaches, on the other hand, are

impartial guides to improved performance

– they help clients move towards solutions

to specific issues, often within a set

timeframe, and then leave.

‘Designers become

leaders when they

grow-up and start

to take responsibility

for others.’

Les Wynn, Design manager

Xerox Europe

‘Only designers can

be design leaders.’

Dick Powell, Founder

Seymour Powell

‘Put aside the idea that

design is for designers…

it is infinitely more

important than that!’

Raymond Turner, Founder

Raymond Turner Associates

‘Leaders realise that

it’s not about them

any more.’

Rod Petrie, design mentor


How to find a mentor

A mentor is traditionally someone with

more experience than you, with whom

you can develop a good rapport. You may

already have someone in mind – if not, start

making a list of possible people. Perhaps

there’s someone you admire and respect,

who may have encouraged you in the past.

Or there could be someone who impresses

you. Or maybe there’s someone you have

encountered earlier in your career who

you would like to reconnect with. Much of

the success of a mentoring relationship

depends on the personalities of the two

people involved, so if you’re a particularly

outgoing person, say, it may be harder to

work with someone who is very reserved,

and vice versa.

People often find

mentors through their

existing professional

networks, so consider

the following:

Look inside your company

Some firms help new recruits find their feet

in their new role by pairing them with an

experienced colleague. Indeed, participants

on our leadership pilot (including IDEO,

Xerox and Engine) have established internal

mentoring schemes.

Even if your company does not have

anything in place formally, it’s worth

approaching your HR department if you

have one, or asking colleagues if they could

recommend someone.

In this workplace context the mentoring

often takes the form of an apprenticeship,

where an inexperienced newcomer learns

the tricks of the trade and the political and

social ways of the firm. An old hand can

also help a newbie fit into their internal

company networks.

Look inside your discipline

Some designers seek out experienced

mentors outside their firm, but within


their design discipline, to get an external

perspective free from internal politics and

conflicts of interest. An external mentor

can also share valuable expertise that is not

held within the firm.

Look outside your discipline

Our mentoring pilot took place across

design disciplines: we felt that designers

would have much to learn from senior

figures in parallel design industries,

especially as the industry as a whole is

becoming more inter-disciplinary.

And of course getting a mentor means

plucking up the courage to ask them.

This can be easy to put off. Don’t! Outline

why you chose them, and what you think

you can learn from them. Even if your

prospective mentor can’t help you, they will

almost be certainly be flattered to be asked.

‘Leaders ask



and think

abstractly. ’

Dena Michelli, management development coach


‘Design leadership

envisions the future,

manifests strategy,

directs corporate

investment and shapes


Raymond Turner, Founder

Raymond Turner Associates


Top mentoring tips

Mentoring is pretty straightforward, but

it is different from just chatting sagely

about design. In some ways it requires

more formality, and in others it calls for the

mentor to suppress some of their natural

instincts and even, at times, their ego.

Here are ten top tips we

learned from the pilot:

1. Set the right tone

It’s tempting to treat a mentoring

relationship casually and agree simply

to have an informal chat from time to

time. Unfortunately, this ad hoc approach

can allow things to drift and can lead to

misunderstandings or disappointments.

It’s wise to keep the relationship

semi-formal by:

Agreeing when and where to meet

and how often

Discussing what each of

you expects

Deciding how you are going to

focus the discussions

Making sure a private space

is arranged.

2. Mum’s the word

What goes on in a mentoring session

should stay between the two people

involved. It’s vital that mentoring

conversations rest on a clear understanding

of trust and confidentiality.

Even with the best intentions, this can

be hard to maintain. In our pilot, for

example, a number of the mentors

suggested that it would be beneficial for

them to meet with their mentees’ line

managers – particularly at the start and end

of the programme – as a form of briefing

and de-briefing.


Dena Michelli, a management development

consultant who worked with us on the pilot,

had to stress that confidentiality and trust

were key to mentoring, and that briefing a

mentor would tarnish the relationship with

the mentee by possibly putting the mentor

on the side of the boss.

3. Keep it up close and personal

It’s best to do all your mentoring face

to face. With telephone calls and email

– communications where there are no visual

channels available – misunderstandings can

easily occur.

Of course, emails and phone calls are

sometimes unavoidable, so if you’re using

them the usual rules apply – read through

your emails twice before sending them, for

example. Mentors can also ask mentees to

repeat what they’ve heard over the phone to

reduce the chance of miscommunication.

The physical distance between mentor and

mentee also matters. Busy professionals

find it difficult to meet if a lot of travelling is

involved: this was an issue that got in the

way of some the mentoring relationships in

our pilot.

4. Ears wide open

It’s tempting for mentors to tell war

stories and treat their protégés simply

as an audience, rather than focusing

on them and their needs. Mentoring

conversations shouldn’t be focused on

the mentor – unless they are sharing their

thoughts, experiences or opinions for the

mentee’s benefit.

Mentors should

concentrate on

listening actively by:

Being fully present and focused

Not interrupting or finishing mentees’

sentences for them

Summarising what they have heard

to make sure they understand the

other’s message

Using silence to allow people to

think and respond thoughtfully

Being conscious of body language:

reflecting the other person’s

body position nodding to demonstrate

that you are ‘tuned in’ and holding good

eye contact, for example.

5. Ask open questions

Senior designers tend to have plenty of

opinions on how things should be – which

can mean they ask directional or rhetorical

questions. Mentors need to check that

they are not jumping to what they think the

issue or solution is. Instead, asking open,

exploratory and ‘tell me more’ questions is

better. These usually boil down to:







6. Accentuate the positive

To build self-belief, mentors shouldn’t to

be too harsh or negative in their feedback.



Constructive comments are vital.

For example, it’s best to focus comments

on the mentees’ behaviour (which can

be changed), not their personality.

Asking them to describe how they

acted in a particular situation, and what

happened as a result, is better than

directing the conversation towards

character traits.

It’s also a good idea to check that the

mentee has understood the feedback by

asking them to reiterate what they did well

and explore how they might improve their

approach next time.

7. Don’t tell

One of the biggest challenges of being a

mentor is avoiding jumping in and telling the

mentee what do to. Rather than imposing

opinions, mentoring is about encouraging

mentees to work out for themselves what

they should do next.

The emphasis should be on encouraging

the mentee to explore situations and

guiding their thinking. So if, as a mentor,

you find yourself starting to use words

like ‘should’ and ‘ought’, stop and think

about returning to some open questions.

‘What do you think…?’; ‘What would have

happened if...?’

A number of the mentors in our pilot

mentioned that they had to check their

instinctive urges to direct their mentee.

‘Designers are natural

problem solvers, so we

have to hold back from

rolling our sleeves up

and trying to solve their

problem for them.’

Oliver King, Founder

Engine and NextNet mentor

8. Deal with ‘the fog’

Mat Hunter, Partner at IDEO and a mentor

in our pilot, shared a useful perspective

on dealing with, and being comfortable

with, ambiguity for the first few mentoring

sessions, which is when some mentees

are still working out what they want to

achieve. He talked about two key mentoring

dimensions: ‘Where do you want to go?’

and ‘How are you going to get there?’ When

people do not know the answer to either

question, they feel as if they are ‘in the fog’.

Other mentors found Mat’s 2x2 matrix a

useful way of thinking about positioning

their mentees’ career situation.

I know where I

want to go

I don’t know

where I want to

go (The Fog)

I know how to get


I don’t know how

to get there

From the other side of the table some

mentees found the openness of the initial

sessions difficult:

‘In the first session it was

difficult to establish what

exactly we were meant

to get out of it. once we’d

started to set goals it

became easier.’

Andrew Dean, Senior digital media designer, Digit

9. Agree actions

Before the mentoring meeting ends,

the mentee should summarise their

understanding of the outcomes of the

session and commit to taking some action.

The mentor might ask: ‘So, let’s review what

you are going to do before we meet again.’

The mentee would then outline what tasks

they are going to do, how they will tackle

them and when they will be completed.



It’s then the responsibility of the mentee to

get to work, and then arrange and set the

agenda for the next session.

10. Go with the flow

Mentoring relationships find their natural

rhythm and life-cycle. Sessions should be

frequent enough to maintain momentum,

but allow adequate time in between

for the mentee to reflect and work on

agreed actions.

There is no ideal length for a mentoring

relationship: some become lifetime

friendships, while others run for only a few

sessions. A number of the mentors and

future leaders in our pilot mentioned that

they started to run out of things to discuss

by the second or third session. While in

some cases this may have reflected a lack

of experience on the mentor’s part, it may

also have signalled a natural resolution of

the relationship.



either click or

they don’t, but

the ones that

do click can

last a lifetime.’

Les Wynn, Design Manager

Xerox Europe and NextNet mentor





Coaching, Mentoring and

Facilitation for Creative

and Cultural Leadership

by Diane Parker

This report from Creative

Choices° offers some basic

definitions of coaching,

mentoring and facilitation,

and provides some

guidance on how you can

access the leadership

development most suited

to your needs. The rest of

the Creative Choices° site

also contains some useful

professional development

resources aimed at the

creative industries.

Mentoring good







This is a useful site on

mentoring and good

mentoring practice that

has been put together by

King’s College London.

It contains a summary of

key good practice points

drawn from a range

of publications on the

subject. As well as advice

for mentors, there are

guidelines for the mentee

on how to make best use of

the mentoring relationship.

It’s a straightforward site

and gives you the essentials

of mentoring.

CIPD Mentoring




The Chartered Institute of

Personnel and Development

has a factsheet on

mentoring that makes

the distinction between

mentoring and coaching and

outlines how to develop a

mentoring approach. It also

proves a simple three-stage

model for conducting a

mentoring relationship and

a recommended reading list.

The Coaching and

Mentoring Network


The Coaching and

Mentoring Network is a nonprofit

making, UK based

portal for coaches seeking

information and services

that relate to all aspects of

coaching. Although it does

not offer personal advice

or recommendations, it is

a valuable resource that

provides case studies,

discussion groups and best

practice information. This

site also offers a referral

service for those looking for

a coach or mentor.


Techniques for Coaching

and Mentoring

David Clutterbuck and

David Megginson



This is a valuable resource

for those acting as a

coach or mentor. It’s easily

accessible and, apart

from giving information,

frameworks, techniques

and case studies, focuses

on the importance of

self-understanding when

playing the role of a coach

or mentor and the centrality

of the relationship with

their ’pupil’.

A Practical Guide

to Mentoring: How to

help others achieve

their goals

David Kay and Roger Hinds

How To Books Limited, 2007

A great reference book

that helps you relate to the

challenges of mentoring

through scenarios and

case studies. You can try to

imagine how you would deal

with the different situations

and what information and

skills you would need to do

so effectively – forewarned

is forearmed. This book

will walk you through the

process and leave you

educated and practised in

the art of mentoring.

The Art of Mentoring

Mike Pegg Management

Books, 2000 Limited, 1998

Mike Pegg goes beneath

the surface of mentoring

and explores what it

really takes to establish

a successful mentoring

relationship. He is keen

to link the techniques he

outlines to the success

of mentoring and the way

organisations from whatever

sector can encourage

and develop mentoring to

improve performance and

job satisfaction.

Coaching and Mentoring

for Dummies

Marty Brounstein

John Wiley & Sons, 2000

As with other ‘Dummies’

books, this is an easy to

read, ‘dip in’ resource that

shares lots of ideas on how

to overcome the anxieties

about mentoring, how

to establish an effective

mentoring relationship

and how to develop the

questioning approach that

allows the mentee to find

answers for themselves.

It’s a good way in.

About our

pilot scheme

NextNet was a pilot

programme produced by the

Design Council, supported

by the Cultural Leadership

Programme under the

banner of the Good Design

Practice Campaign.

What happened on

the NextNet pilot?

NextNet took an innovative

approach to mentoring.

Thirteen design companies

took part, with a design

leader and mid-level

designer from each

volunteering to be part of

the scheme. Each company

agreed to give the time

of one of their leaders to

mentor a future leader from

another company, in return

for one of their staff being

involved in the programme.

These mentoring

relationships were set up

across design disciplines,

both to encourage crossdisciplinary


‘Small design companies

are notoriously bad at

professional development,

and the time-bank model of

managers mentoring others

in return for their staff

being mentored is ‘pure

genius’ for consultancies

with limited HR budgets.

The staff member can see

that I’m putting time into

it for their benefit, rather

than just signing off a

training budget. Although

Engine already has an

internal mentoring scheme,

it is incredibly valuable to

be able to step outside

the company and ask the

questions that are difficult

to ask inside the company.

The cross-disciplinary

nature of the programme



was great – I personally

learned a lot and it would

have been awkward

mentoring a designer from

a competitor in the

same discipline.’

Oliver King

Co-founder, Engine

It also reduced the

likelihood of conflicts of

interest or confidentiality

issues, and lowered the

risk – which had been

highlighted as a key

concern by the participants

– of mentors poaching

their mentees.

‘The cross-disciplinary

nature of the programme

was its key strength, as it

brought a lot of richness

and is extremely good for

the industry as a whole.’

Julian Grice, Managing

Director, The Team

The mid-level designers

– our future design leaders

also valued the experience.

‘One of the things I found

most valuable was getting

time with someone to talk

to, getting an ‘outside’

perspective on things,

getting the view of someone

with experience.’

Andrew Dean, Senior digital

media designer, Digit, and

NextNet mentee

Who we are

The Cultural Leadership

Programme is a


initiative to promote

excellence in leadership

within the cultural and

creative sectors. It runs

a range of activities and

opportunities to nurture

and develop world class,

dynamic and diverse leaders

for the 21st century. For

more information visit


Good Design Practice

is a campaign from the

UK Design Skills Alliance

promoting the benefits of

developing business and

professional skills alongside

the wealth of creativity

we already have in the

design industry.

By supporting design

teaching and learning

in schools, colleges

and universities, and by

encouraging designers

to develop their business

and professional skills,

we’ll ensure that the UK

design industry will be

ready for new opportunities

and challenges generated

by the global economy.

If you are interested in

finding out more about

the Good Design Practice

campaign and the UK

Design Skills Alliance visit

The Design Council is the

national strategic body

for design. Our mission

is to inspire and enable

the best use of design

to make the UK a more

competitive, creative and

sustainable nation.

Our current three-year

strategy and objectives are

set out in The Good Design

Plan, which is available




Kevin McCullagh is the

founder of Plan Strategic,

a design strategy

consultancy, and acted

as Executive Producer

of NextNet.


Dena Michelli is a

management development

consultant who helped

the NextNet mentors

prepare for, and engage

with, their mentoring role.

She also wrote the NextNet

mentoring manual.


We would like to thank

the following for their time,

support and ideas:

Ralph Ardill

The Brand Experience


John Bates

London Business School

Madelaine Cooper


Nicola Davis


David Godber

Nissan Europe

Rod Petri e

Dick Powell

Seymour Powell

Raymond Turner

Raymond Turner Associates

Julie Verity

CASS Business School

Simon Waterfall




You can contact the

Design Skills Alliance at the

Design Council by email:

Design Skills Alliance

Design Council

34 Bow Street



T: 020 7420 5200

F: 020 7420 5300



More magazines by this user
Similar magazines